More and more studies have been pointing to the significant benefits of motor imagery; ‘the mental representation of movement without any physical movement or muscle activation’. Motor imagery activates the same areas of the brain that are activated when physical movement is actually carried out, and it strengthens the signals between the brain and the target muscles. This is great news, as it can positively affect so many people for whom movement is either very painful or impossible.
Elite athletes have been using this technique for years, and those who practice motor imagery tend to be more successful than those who rely solely on physical training. For example, a competitive gymnast might train physically for several hours per day, but then spend an additional period of time to mentally simulate specific skills or routines in their mind. Those athletes engaging in motor imagery have the advantage of being able to train their nervous systems for more hours than their bodies are able to tolerate physical training.
Researchers have confirmed that motor imagery practice is not just beneficial for athletes – it can also improve performance in rehabilitation programs. Too many people feel immobilized by pain and weakness and the idea of physical exercise seems like a huge barrier to them. Individuals with whiplash injuries, neurological disorders, chronic regional pain syndrome, arthritis and those that have been immobilized in a cast after breaking a bone… these are just a few examples of many conditions in which motor imagery can be enormously helpful! Studies have shown that people can use their minds to maintain or even increase muscle strength. Motor imagery can be used alone when patients are unable to move or it can be used in conjunction with physical exercise to accelerate recovery and optimize performance.
If you are interested in learning more about motor imagery and how it might help you achieve your goals, please do not hesitate to contact one of our registered physiotherapists. They are experts in exercise and movement and can help guide you through a motor imagery program that best suits your needs.
Written By: Reanna Montopoli, FCAMPT Physiotherapist